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Jumaane Williams: ‘I’m Worried’ About Staying Safe When I Ride My Bike

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (center), at a press conference in Brooklyn. Photo: Dave Colon

New York City's backup mayor is as afraid of traffic as you are when he gets on his bike — for good reason.

After getting hit by a car driver last week, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told Streetsblog that he's worried about his safety when he gets on a bike in the city, putting him in the ranks of countless cyclists across New York City.

"I'm not in the streets that often with my cycling, but when I am I'm worried about it," Williams said after a press conference in Brooklyn on gun violence.

Williams, who would take over if Mayor de Blasio resigned (as de Blasio's hundreds of Twitter critics demand every day), tweeted last week that he was involved in a crash with a driver in Brooklyn but came out with just minor injuries.

"I’ve been cycling almost daily — this morning I got hit by a car. Thankfully, everyone's ok, I got checked out for minor injuries just in case," Williams tweeted last Thursday.

The crash shows that the lack of safe-cycling infrastructure can affect anyone and everyone. Williams was not the only city official hit by a driver in the last several days. Early Monday morning, a Brooklyn prosecutor, Sarah Pitts, died after being struck by a charter bus in Williamsburg.

Although the tweet didn't have a ton of details about the crash, and Williams was keeping mum on assigning blame while the police investigate it, he was willing to mention that he was hit by a driver making a left turn through an intersection, meaning he fell victim to the notorious "left hook."

Williams said that he was struck near Shore Road and Fourth Avenue, an intersection in Bay Ridge where you can enter or exit from the Shore Parkway bike path, which the public advocate said he rides frequently.

"I was coming back [from the path] and in the crosswalk, but there's no good way to cross the street because there's highways and stuff. So somebody was making a left, and I smacked into the first quarter panel and I fell off my bike," Williams said describing the crash, which he said damaged his handlebars to the point where his bike was unrideable and left him sore enough in his neck and shoulder to go for an MRI this week.

"Someone lost her life in the DA's office just yesterday so I thank God mine ended the way it did," Williams said. "It just shows, it's scary."

An NYPD spokesperson said that Williams' crash took place at about 8:30 a.m. that morning, and occurred when the driver of the car was making a left turn across Fourth Avenue on to Shore Road while Williams was in the intersection. Officers who responded to the crash gave the driver a failure to yield summons.

Shore Road and 4th Avenue, the chaotic intersection where the public advocate was hit by a driver. Photo: Google Maps
Shore Road and Fourth Avenue, the chaotic intersection where the public advocate was hit by a driver. Photo: Google Maps
Shore Road and 4th Avenue, the chaotic intersection where the public advocate was hit by a driver. Photo: Google Maps

Despite the fact that Fourth Avenue and Shore Road both lead to a bike path that's central to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway, the only way to access it from the intersection of the two roads is to deal with a chaotic intersection where drivers are trying to get on or off the Belt Parkway from multiple intersections, and the only bike lane is an unprotected bike lane on Shore. Incredibly, there were only eight crashes injuring nine motorists at the intersection between 2017 and 2019, although 66-year-old pedestrian Frank Decolvenaere was killed by a driver one block north at 101st Street and Fourth Avenue in March this year.

Williams said that the area could use more safe-cycling infrastructure, but said the crash brought up other policy issues for him.

"I was thinking, God forbid if I didn't have any insurance and I needed that bike for work, what would I have done? If I didn't have insurance I would have had to think about whether I should go to the emergency room, and if I was a messenger, that's my livelihood, but I can't use this bike now," said Williams.

The public advocate, who has taken some brickbats from Streetsblog for racking up 27 tickets from school-zone speed cameras from 2013 to 2018 (and one speeding ticket since then), said that his view on keeping cyclists and pedestrians began to change when he took a driver-accountability course like the one that's required for recidivist speeders under the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Law. Williams, a man who some have pinned their 2021 mayoral hopes on despite his pledges not to run, also said that he came to understand that the streets were "scary" after a bike ride through Brooklyn last summer and used his crash to again say that car drivers were the most privileged road users in the city.

"If you're driving on the road behind a bunch of metal and tons of safety, you have to be the most cautious. Usually the people with the most privilege have the most work to do to make sure everyone else is safe, and in this case it's the drivers. There's a lot more work to do," said Williams.

Transportation Alternatives echoed Williams' call for more work in a tweet thread following the public advocate's crash, which ended with "We urge Mayor de Blasio to recommit to Vision Zero and direct his Department of Transportation to apply, without delay, their full toolbox of proven lifesaving measures."

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